When I look at the crucifix, it is hard to be beckoned by his call to “follow me”. When I look at the crucifix, it is hard not to be consumed by the suffering, and so I remain spiritually stuck at the foot of the cross. Somehow, I think a good Christian life must be filled with sacrifices that will lead to hardship and suffering. I cannot see beyond that, into the Easter joy of true happiness and peace. I shudder at the call to take up my own cross.
“If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me”. (Today’s Gospel)
“To be a follower of mine” is to become a disciple. Discipleship in today’s context is a lifestyle choice. It is a choice “to take up our cross”. We can politely decline. When we “take up”, we make a conscious choice to ‘take’ the way of the cross. It is a lifestyle choice because we decide to live a certain way. The are many alternative lifestyles but we choose to adopt the ways of the gospel as our guiding principles.
When we take up the cross, we are not taking the cross of the crucifixion, but rather the cross of the Resurrection. Christ died on the cross, once, to redeem humanity. Good Friday is done. Discipleship is to continue the works of Christ, now Risen. Discipleship is not running headlong into hardship or suffering. Discipleship is the lifestyle choice of the wise who knows that it leads to true happiness and peace.
This is that wisdom: “For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
Our Christian life is this sacrifice, the “losing of his life for my sake”, to love the other first before self. This does not lead to a death on the cross but a resurrection off it. Somehow, the more we give away of our self, the more fulfilled we find ourselves. Fulfilment leaves us in a state of peace and true happiness. This is the promise of discipleship. No self-engrossing worldly lifestyle or values have delivered fulfilment. Just listen to what the pandemic is telling us.
“Faith is like that: if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead”. (Second Reading)
Discipleship is more than just being baptised. Discipleship is not just coming regularly for Sunday mass nor to merely be a member of a ministry, although they will help. Discipleship begins with an internal reset. It is within us where we form who we truly can be. The reset focuses our priorities on works of the kingdom over other worldly desires. The path of discipleship only begins when we start to express in action our proclamation ‘to love the other’. Discipleship is faith with good works.
Why do we not want to be a disciple when we don’t need to be materially rich to attain fulfilment in life? Why compete in uneven playing fields in the world to find true happiness, joy, and peace? It is as a disciple that the poor become rich, and the weak, strong.
Discipleship is not our imagined cross of hardship. We must rise from the foot of the cross. It is not about being burdened by the weight of our cross but to allow the cross of the Resurrection to lift us and carry us through our worldly life. Let us, with conscious choice and intention, take up our cross. Christianity is a lifestyle and discipleship is our choice.
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time